The recent announcement that the “one country, two systems” constitutional approach for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will continue beyond the original 50-year period has probably come as a pleasant surprise to many but not to me. I anticipated this might be in the cards as a keen observer of geopolitics and for those that have an eye and predilection for more long-term strategic thinking. It makes perfect sense and dovetails with what some more-observant sinologists said: “The Americans plan ahead of the next election cycle; whereas the Chinese plan in century terms.”
Indeed, even as a principle, “one county, two systems” embodies a novel, pragmatic and stable path. Any other colonized country/territory would probably have played hardball and perhaps gone “all in” from the inevitable moment of handover. This was not the case for Hong Kong in the negotiated outcome (and indeed for Macao) and is almost unprecedented in modern history as an enactment of pragmatic politics writ large on the global scale.
I have often been dismayed by the short-termism exhibited by many countries and have always admired the French for often taking longer-term views of what is in their national interest. This is compared to some other countries I could mention. China excels in this strategy, and despite regular Five-Year Plans, a longer-term vision and approach for the country are always still evident. It seems to me that “patience, prudence and pragmatism” are a key part of the embodiment of China, and that these are the three things that speak volumes about intent and action going forward, as is clearly the case here for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. I believe peace, harmony and social stability are at the heart of this — an unchanged, core philosophy for centuries in China. This is regardless of whatever emperor or president, empire or republic, is at the helm. Indeed, there are pervasive and respectful elements of Chinese culture that have endured for 5,000 years — now that really is long-term thinking!
Nothing in this world is ever perfect, but with proper intent demonstrated, real trust can be built through unwavering adherence to and protection of the Basic Law — our “mini-constitution”. Only then can the 2047 date be seen not as a threat, not something to be feared, but just as another year of progress in Hong Kong as a unique global city
These emblematic, societal indicators have, after an unsettled period, come back to the fore. Such cultural anchors when combined with a flexible approach have enabled China to emerge as the powerful Middle Kingdom it has always had the potential to become. This is with a unique combination of Eastern and Western thinking and pragmatic seizing of opportunity that places dim-sum restaurants next to Starbucks, and Gucci next to Shanghai Tang in gleaming, modern cities across China. These are connected together by the fastest high-speed train network ever built. Indeed, we have our own connection right here in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon. It is a China that boasts top international companies while simultaneously creating its own iconic brands. A China that has opened up to hosting global talent while at the same time sending some of its best and brightest overseas to the great universities and enterprises in the West. It is here where friendships, cultural exchanges and diverse opinions can build and foster trust for the better future of us all.
This is what is sorely needed here. Trust. Trust from the people of Hong Kong in the Chinese-mainland intent toward us. An intent that I believe is actually full of opportunity, as a key and integral part of the exciting and prosperous Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and one that beckons our young generation. An intent that I believe is inherently generous (one only has to see the amazing support coming in every day from the Chinese mainland to help us overcome the fifth wave of COVID-19) and perhaps surprising to many, actually committed to protecting us and our way of life. This is just like other parts of China that are so full of cultural variety, diversity and richness. Only with trust can suspicions and fears, that have had too much traction of late, be replaced with hope and positive expectations.
(CAI MENG/CHINA DAILY)
To achieve this, it is not so much fine words that matter but deeds. Action that can be seen, felt and lived. This is what will matter to the people of Hong Kong and why this announcement is so important. It is the promise of the future with no time limit.
Today, Hong Kong is only halfway through to foreseen integration into the Chinese mainland by 2047, with the 25-year anniversary coming up in July, and yet the 2047 date has been playing heavily on the minds of many in the HKSAR. It is being weaponized by some to sow dismay, discord and discontent. Only 25 years to go for some citizens seems too close for comfort and so raises natural concerns about their unique way of life being snuffed out. This has fueled fear and foreboding.
However, I believe this new announcement has the potential to address these issues head-on and give the Hong-Kong people the confidence and security they crave to plan long-term. It will deliver trust that the Basic Law will be upheld rigorously and their way of life, traditions and status will be protected robustly under law. This cannot be more important. For me, this could result in a tectonic shift in mainstream thinking as the rug gets pulled out from under the feet of all those negative arguments about the encroaching, awaiting future that is seen as unwelcome and threatening.
I believe Hong Kong is the most amazing city I have ever had the good fortune to live in. The people are industrious, ambitious, global and connected but also recently worried and concerned about their society, the pandemic and their futures.
This one “new” thing — an indefinite continuation of the “two systems under one country” paradigm beyond 2047 — can now provide some confidence about this future. Sure, there have been teething problems and concerns about the National Security Law for Hong Kong, but perhaps more with its zealous implementation than its intent. I believe it is there to provide protection, certainty, stability and security from the recent social unrest and to preserve that very way of life so many hold dear and without unfettered control of undue, malign external influences.
So actions speak louder than words.
Nothing in this world is ever perfect, but with proper intent demonstrated, real trust can be built through unwavering adherence to and protection of the Basic Law — our “mini-constitution”. Only then can the 2047 date be seen not as a threat, not something to be feared, but just as another year of progress in Hong Kong as a unique global city. A city that is strong, outward-looking and confident. A Hong Kong built on trust in the rule of law and our abilities and security under enduring respect for the two systems operating under one sovereign nation.
The author is a professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of Hong Kong and the director of its Laboratory for Space Research.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS